Figuring out what to do with Trump's base means admitting they are racist

Dylan Matthews has a wonderful piece up on Vox, Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying, which points out that in order to heal the great divide in the United States we're going to have to admit what Trump's popularity is all about: a fading, racist white majority is struggling to maintain primacy.

For various reasons, our press and politicians shy away from tackling the inherent racism of this movement head-on. Apparently racism is so ugly, we don't want to accuse people of it even as they scream white power slogans and wave Nazi flags. People find it easier to say that White Power America has big economic problems, which isn't true, rather than look honestly at the hatred and bigotry.

Almost daily in America, police kill an innocent black man. Some portion of our population thinks this is "law and order." We've got white power assholes threatening post-election violence. A reality-tv-created egotistical monster is closer to being elected President of the United States than anyone should believe possible.

I get that we want to be nice to one another, but just waiting for education and time to solve this problem is perhaps not working fast enough. At some point we're going to need to point out that some beliefs, regardless how passionately held, are what they are. Someone holding on to racist beliefs who finds the mantle of 'Racist' too ugly to wear should reconsider their position, not couch it in a cute slogan. They aren't Tea Party Patriots clamoring for a birth certificate, they aren't the New Alt-Right, they are just racist.

Via Vox:

The American press is overwhelmingly made up of left-of-center white people who live in large cities and have internalized very strong anti-racist norms. As a result, it tends to be composed of people who think of racism as a very, very serious character defect, and who are riddled with anxiety about being perceived as out of touch with “real America.” “Real America” being, per decades of racially charged tropes in our culture, white, non-urban America.

So in comes Donald Trump, a candidate running on open white nationalism whose base is whites who — while not economically struggling compared with poor whites backing Hillary Clinton and doing way better economically than black or Latino people backing Clinton — definitely live in the “real America” which journalists feel a yearning to connect to and desperately don’t want to be out of touch with.

Describing these people as motivated by racial resentment, per journalists’ deep-seated belief that racism is a major character defect, seems cruel and un-empathetic, even if it’s supported by extensive amounts of social scientific research and indeed by the statements of Trump’s supporters themselves.

So it becomes very, very tempting to just ignore this evidence and insist that Trump supporters are in fact the wretched of the earth, and to connect them with every possible pathology of white America: post-industrial decay, the opioid crisis, labor force dropouts, rising middle-age mortality rates, falling social mobility, and so on. This almost always fails (globalization victims and labor force dropouts are less likely to support Trump, per Rothwell), but if there’s even a small hint of a connection, as when Rothwell found a correlation between Trump support and living in an area with rising white mortality, you’re in luck. If you can squint hard enough, the narrative will always survive.

There’s a parallel temptation among leftists and social democrats who, in their ongoing attempt to show that neoliberal capitalism is failing, attempt to tie that failure to the rise of Trump. If economic suffering among lower-class whites caused Trump, the reasoning goes, then the solution is to address that suffering through a more generous welfare state and better economic policy, achieved through a multiethnic working-class coalition that includes those Trump supporters. Yes, these supporters may be racist, but it’s important not to say mean things about them lest they fall out of the coalition.

Notable Replies

  1. Wow. Admit they are racist? I'm going to have to think long and hard before I'm prepared to do that.

    Okay. I'm done. They're racist.

  2. It's not racism. That's the kind of divisive PC rhetoric that, like Obama Hussein Obama, has so bitterly divided America. The issue is that all the Unpopular Minorities (black and brown and Muslins and women and The Gays and...and...) all expect to join us Normal Americans in line, having a modicum of power and sharing the fruits and such. Talk about privilege!

    If those people really loved America and Freedom and America like us Patriots to, those people would stand still on their rung on the economic ladder and not try to climb up, like the ancestors of us Normal Americans didn't!*

    * Trump 2016!

  3. I'll begin by saying that I am a white male baby boomer Vietnam veteran and a registered Republican, though more an independent. Also, I am voting for Clinton while holding my nose.

    I really object to this article; not because there isn't some merit but because it is so one dimensional. There are other reasons why people are voting for him that have nothing to do with race which shouldn't be discounted. Evangelicals have the SCOTUS on their minds and know that a Clinton election is the end of their fight against Roe. You and I may not agree, but they believe we are guilty of murder. I have nothing but empathy for them.

    Some people would pull the Republican lever (or Democrat) regardless of who runs.

    Some people (like me) truly believe both parties have failed us (and we have failed ourselves) and are looking for other answers. And if you grew up in cities like Toledo where I did, you see some of the downside of globalization and our own stupidity. Trump is not the answer for me.

    None of these have to do with societal privilege or racism.

  4. Ok, I hear sometimes that not all Trump supporters are racist. But here's the problem... Trump is racist and they are supporting him. It doesn't matter their background or how well you think you know them. If you support blatantly racist policy and rhetoric you are in fact a racist. Not having the courage of your convictions to act upon your racism doesn't mean it's not there. It just means you are a racist as well as a coward.

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